How to Become a Successful Editor

Editing is an art. As with any art, it will take time, and a commitment to a daily proofreading and editing practice to become successful in the field. If you’ve thought about becoming an editor, here are ten tips that will help you develop the editing skills you’ll use again and again.

  1. Become a reader

If you’re not already a voracious reader…then editing might not be for you. Good editors, like good writers, begin as good readers. Reading quality works of fiction and non-fiction will hone your proofreading and editing skills when it comes to such things as grammar, punctuation, and syntax. Reading will also help develop your empathy, and broaden your interests well beyond those you already know.

  1. Learn new words

It may sound simple, but expanding your vocabulary will give your proofreading and editing skills new depth. Successful editors understand the weight of one word versus another. Learning new words will allow you to edit with greater sophistication and nuance. Keep a dictionary on your desk, and subscribe to apps that teach you a word a day. Soon you’ll be able to produce the right word for every occasion.

  1. Feed your brain

Editors must be curious. They must be open to the world, interested in their times, and capable of thinking about what kind of books the world needs right now. Reading will help you develop your curiosity, of course, but so will travelling, meeting new people, and allowing yourself to move beyond your comfort zone. Surround yourself with people who will challenge you. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes, but make sure you learn from them.

  1. Identify what kind of editor you want to become

Editors come in many stripes. If you’re interested in copyediting, you’ll need to focus on sharpening your proofreading skills until you’re a proficient proofreader and editor. Other editing jobs require special knowledge – and a familiarity with specialized vocabulary – such as those needed in legal, medical, and technical fields. If you’re interested in becoming, say, an acquisitions editor at one of New York’s major publishing houses, you’ll likely need to get a foot in the door first, and work your way up.

Macbook keyboard macro

Macbook keyboard macro

  1. English and other majors

A bachelor’s degree in English, journalism, or communications is certainly helpful to anyone interested in becoming a proofreader and editor, but it is not required. If you’ve got editing and proofreading talent, and can market these skills well, you’ll learn much of what you need to know on the job. For those interested in freelance editing, it’s more important to demonstrate your capabilities than it is to have the right degree.

  1. Take that internship

Publishing houses often work on the apprenticeship model. You’ll start far below your dream job, and you’ll learn the proofreading and editing know-how you’ll need throughout your career. Just make sure that you check with other interns to see that their internships paid off.

  1. Consider other points of entry

If you’re not interested in the climbing-the-ladder approach to an editing career, try ghostwriting and fact-checking. Both will help you get your foot in the door. Ghostwriting will connect you to other writers and editors. Fact-checking will help you network with valuable industry contacts as well.

  1. Make yourself needed

Make sure both your proofreading and editing skills are in top shape. Consider pitching a few pieces, to prove you can write as well as you can edit. Market yourself as a proofreader and editor to writers, and to publishing houses, and to other places, such as a graphic design firm. Think outside of the box.

  1. Acquire additional skills

Much of what proofreaders and editors do takes place on a computer. It’s to your advantage to keep up to date with Web content management, editing software, and an understanding of editing issues such as layouts.

  1. Never stop learning

This brings you full circle. Successful editors never turn off their minds. They remain open to new words, new worlds, and new ways of thinking. That said, all of the old tools – such as a solid grasp of grammar and syntax – will remain important ones.





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